Glexis Novoa’s Drones Are Intriguing Yet Conceptually Opaque

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Glexis Novoa, Private Drone, 2011, silver wire, metallic ink, and collage on paper, 84 x 216 inches. Image courtesy Saltworks Gallery.

Glexis Novoa’s two bodies of work (all from 2011) presented in the Drones exhibition at Saltworks Gallery deal in different measures with the images and instruments of political and personal power. The most spectacularly beautiful work, the 84 x 216 inch Private Drone, executed in a minimal palette featuring metallic pigments, depicts an imagined (but all too plausible) personal drone from the near future, a moment in which everyone will feel compelled to keep an eye in the sky on everyone else.

Glexis Novoa, Tatlin, Vladimir Yevgrafovich, 2011, graphite on marble, 12 x 12 inches. Image courtesy Saltworks Gallery.

Smaller graphite drawings on marble-wall slabs are as classical in their formal excellence as the material on which they are presented. Novoa is a master draftsman when he wants to be. Here, the drones appear in all their visual ambiguity. Devoid of conventional signifiers such as a cockpit or front-facing propellers, they create confusion—particularly for those who are used to viewing conventional aircrafts—as to whether they are coming or going.

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The other works on marble depict objects that are equally ambiguous in their destiny and their destination: Tatlin’s never-constructed Monument to the Third International appears festooned with small flags, but in another work from the series, the same flags flank a dilapidated billboard viewed from behind. We are told that the ubiquitous flags are a memory from the years before Novoa left Cuba for Miami, though for unwitting viewers they may more closely resemble the banners of a forlorn carnival.

Glexis Novoa, Lenin / The Miami Times, 2011, metallic pigment, gesso, and collage on paper, 72 x 108 inches. Image courtesy Saltworks Gallery.

The collages of faces from newspapers are more or less at an opposite pole from the Drones drawings. Everything about them is consciously slapdash, possibly including their oblique symbolism. In Lenin / The Miami Times (each collage’s title identifies the newspaper from which the photographs were extracted), a large silhouette of the head of a Lenin statue being hoisted by construction cranes (or hauled away) is surrounded by vaguely orbital paths of African American faces, with a larger portrait of Frederick Douglass placed atop a drawing of a moonlike sphere in orbit around the head; the companion piece, Horse / The Miami Times, places unsteady stacks of similar cutout photo portraits above the silhouette of an equestrian statue of George Washington; Piles / The Miami Times presents three even more ungainly stacks of heads next to one another on the ground; Map / The Miami Herald superimposes an S-shaped line of heads of varied ethnicity on a map of Miami, with a large portrait containing a caption about Osama bin Laden’s death placed above a city airport. The silver wire on which the heads are strung continues off the paper, forming a shape on its way to being a figure 8, or perhaps the symbol for infinity.

Glexis Novoa, Map / The Miami Herald, 2011, silver wire, metallic pigment, gesso, and collage on paper, 35 x 53 inches. Image courtesy Saltworks Gallery.

What does all this mean? The faces piled up or strung out range from the famous to those who are anonymous outside their own neighborhood. The line on the map runs from the Overtown community made famous by the late vernacular artist Purvis Young to more upscale northside neighborhoods, but there seems to be no obvious order to the head shots meticulously arranged along the curve. None of the other assemblages of heads or faces seem any clearer in their symbolism, except insofar as the ethnicities represent the dominant makeup of the metro areas the newspapers serve.

Glexis Novoa, Horse / The Miami Times, 2011, metallic pigment, gesso, and collage on paper, 35 x 53 inches. Image courtesy Saltworks Gallery.

The stacks atop and next to the statue of Washington appear to be silhouettes in their own right (one of them vaguely suggests the Statue of Liberty), so it is likely that the symbolism simply eludes this reviewer. For me, however, the show remains visually compelling (and in large part, extraordinarily beautiful), but conceptually opaque. An artist’s statement or exhibition commentary based on interviews with Novoa would have been helpful.

Saltworks Gallery will be presenting Glexis Novoa’s Drones through January 7, 2012. The gallery is open Wednesday through Saturday from noon to 5PM.

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